Ethical dilemma/Issues


Ethical dilemma in psychology refers to the actions in which if a person acting as the consultant or therapist performs would result in the violation of another person’s rights who is the client. Ethical dilemma occurs in various situations where the person that violates the rights of the client is in a supervisory capacity and therefore they take advantage of the situation of the client.

In this paper, we aim to analyze the case of a student who was addicted to marijuana and needed help to cure this addiction and habitual drug use. Help in this case was to be provided by a teacher deemed to be qualified in counseling drug addicts and hence served as Head of the Counseling Department. The context of this study aims at discussing this ethical issue in detail, offering particular perspective to understanding the aforementioned situation. During the context of the discussion, particular excerpts from relevant literature will be cited to deem the arguments developed here in relevant. Eventually a suitable conclusion will be used to summarize the paper’s discussion.

Case study

Geoffrey, a student in Mountain Springs High School has had an addiction to marijuana since his 13th birthday. Upon realizing that the addiction was negatively affecting his academic work, he decided to go to the Head Counselor in their school to seek counseling to help him with his problem. The teacher did accept to counsel him and marked a date the following week when they would begin. However, the teacher felt obligated to report the matter to the school administration citing the fact that the student admitted to using an illegal drug. He later reported the matter to the school administration and Geoffrey was later expelled from school.


A student was addicted to taking marijuana or cannabis sativa and sought help from the head school counselor in his scholar institution. The head of the counseling department had to take charge of the student situation through helping him in recovering from the addiction. The role of the teacher was to give advice to the students on the situations that faced them while at school. Therefore, the student who was known as Geoffrey went to get some counseling sessions that would help him stop the addiction that he had for marijuana. In addition to providing advice to the students, the head of the counseling department was supposed to provide guidelines on the situations that may deem the need of further consultancy by the student to an individual cited as being more qualified than the teacher himself. In retrospect, this occurred in situations where he could not offer certain services required by the affected students. His major role was counseling while particular functions such as clinical work were done by other qualified psychologists and counselors.

The teacher was supposed to act professionally in his work because he had undergone some training in psychology. Therefore, it was his responsibility to act in an objective manner with the interest of the students at forefront. However, though the teacher gave some counseling to Geoffrey, he was prompted to disclose some confidential information about his ‘client’ by the school authority. This was in an attempt to give the required disciplinary situation to the student because drug taking was illegal in that school. Although there was some progress regarding the rehabilitation of the student, information as pertains his initial drug taking stint led to his expulsion from the school. Actually, Geoffrey had personally presented himself to the teacher for counseling because he wanted to quit this addictive behavior but he did not have an idea of how he would do it.

Case Analysis

            Through the disclosure of private information regarding Geoffrey, it is evident that the teacher did not act professionally because Geoffrey had not been caught consuming marijuana but had instead presented himself for assistance. On the other hand, the teacher might have argued that he was prompted to disclose the information by the school administration on the basis that he was obligated to do so through policy guidelines stated in his employment regulations. With such information, it presents an ethical issue because as a professional psychologist, confidentiality of the client’s information is of utter most importance and therefore mandatory.

Confidentiality presets one of the major codes of conduct for counselors and psychologists. According to the Canadian code of ethics for psychologists, it is well stipulated in (Standards IV.17 and IV.18) that “…confidentiality of information should be maintained.” These standard provisions affect every individual the teacher may have encountered in his capacity as a counselor. Information of these persons should not be disclosed except through the consent of the client or as required or justified by the law. This confirms that Geoffrey’s situation should not have been an exemption.

The above case presented itself as an ethical dilemma through which the teacher had to choose on the viable course of action. He had to either deny the administration information about Geoffrey or provide it. Due to the effect that the decision taken by the teacher had on him as a student, he sued the teacher for infringement of his right because it led to an abrupt stop of his study in that school. Therefore, the teacher had to defend himself against his actions and this presents a situation that requires a resolution through the ethical decision making process.

Other than infringement of confidentiality of the student, the teacher also violated his role of extending responsibility to his clients as presented by the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists (Standards II. 49, 50). This is because he was supposed to consider the consequences that would result when he provided this information about the student. In addition, the student had sought his assistance voluntarily and therefore it shows that he was ready to quit his addiction through every possible means. Responsibility in the codes of conduct means that the professional should ensure that whichever actions they choose to take should not harm their clients. This reflects their concern on the welfare of their clients.

The Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists also provides that privacy of information should be maintained. It requires that the therapist should record only the private information that is necessary for their delivery of services to their clients (Standard I. 39). Therefore, the provision of private information about the student by the teacher was a violation of his privacy. The teacher should have sought the consent of the student before giving such information to the school administration. This leads us to another important code of conduct that the teacher should have considered which is guided by tenets on the informed consent.

The counselor should always seek the advice of the client or close members of his family before making any decisions (Standard I. 16). Provision of the client’s information to a third party without the consent of the client will mean he violated the code of conduct for psychologists. (This is provided in the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists 1.29). Decisions made through informed consent will not pose any threat to the ‘professional’ because it is mutual and they are aware that it will cause no harm. This ethical dilemma may have been resolved as follows using the ethical decision making process.

Utilizing the ethical decision making process

The first step in decision-making process requires one to identify the individuals and groups that may have been affected by the decision made by the psychologist. In our case, the most affected person by the decision is the Geoffrey, the student. This is because the decision of the teacher got him expelled from school because his case was considered as indiscipline. He was also affected because despite his attempts to change his behavior, it was never considered as a positive thing despite it being voluntary. This would therefore have some great effects on his future because he will hardly trust the person(s) that offer counseling services.

In addition, the family of the student was greatly affected. They may have been affected by the trend taken by his academic work. The gravity of this situation may further depend on their contributions to his study work. The teacher should have considered such issues while making his decisions. Psychology as a profession is also affected. This is because there is a probability of a general assumption when a mistake is done by a single professional. For example if Geoffrey fails to trust the psychologists any more, it will affect the profession as a whole.

Secondly, the process of decision-making requires the psychologists to identify ethically relevant issues and practices. This should include the interests, welfare and traits of the persons and groups involved and of the system or situation in which the ethical problem arose. The general idea of this step is that the psychologist should always have the code of ethics in mind while making any decisions. They should be careful about the welfare of their clients and therefore they should work to the interests of their clients. In the case of Geoffrey and the teacher, the teacher should have been careful while giving information to the authorities that led to his expulsion. The teacher should have been responsible for the welfare of the student. He should have considered the motive of the student when he presented himself to him for assistance. In addition, it would have been important for the teacher to consider the consequences that would arise on giving such information. With such considerations, it would have been easier to resolve the perceived ethical dilemma. The decision that he would have made would be rational and viable to all parties involved.

Thirdly, the psychologist should always consider how personal biases, anxiety or self-centeredness might have influenced a decision or choice of a decision or course of action made. It is important that a psychologist approach a situation with an open mind and without any pre-determined courses of action. This will help reduce chances of bias because he will approach the situation objectively. A psychologist should not seek to achieve their personal interests through their clients but they should always have the interests of their clients at heart. Therefore, their decisions should not be influenced by anything except the professional requirements in the specified situation.

In addition, with the above considerations, the psychologists should make amicable or rational decisions. This will involve the development of the alternative courses of action. When the alternative courses of action are developed, it will be easier to choose the one that satisfies the professional requirements. This will help to promote objectivity and adherence to the professional Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists. In retrospect this is the fourth step in the decision making process, which involves an analysis of the courses of actions developed. This will involve considering the risks and benefits of the alternative courses of action in the short-term, current and long-term. The analysis will be based on the effects that each of the courses of action has on the individual or groups. Analysis is very important because it will help choose the alternative that has the interests of the clients. The psychologist will be in a position to consider the consequences that the courses of action will have on their clients. The teacher should have considered the benefits of providing such information and the risks that would arise. This would have helped him to decide whether the decision he adopted would have a positive effect on his client.

After the above step, the psychologist will be in position of making a conscious decision; after considering the principles, values and standards of the profession. This will help to eliminate any sought of bias that may arise. In addition, when all the professional requirements are considered, there will be a general application of the professional code of conduct. Again, decision-making will be easier because the psychologist will already have some factors to consider that are stipulated in the analysis of the alternative courses of action. In retrospect, when the relevant considerations are made, there will be some sense of responsibility on the part of the psychologist. If the teacher had such considerations, he would have chosen an alternative that would be beneficial to his client. This would have been to assist him stop the addiction as the core priority occasioned by their ‘interaction’. This would have probably eliminated the initial ethical dilemma.

After the choice of the viable alternative, the psychologist should act on it putting into consideration that he will be responsible for the consequences of the action. Professional practice does not give room for errors and therefore, the psychologist should be aware that they would be personally responsible for the alternatives they choose. Therefore, as long as the teacher was personally liable for the welfare of the student, any decisions he makes will make him personally liable as a counseling psychologist. This step will help to remove any biases that the psychologist may have against their clients.

In addition, professional ethics concerning counseling and psychology practice require that the psychologist to evaluate the results of the course of action. Evaluation of the results helps to determine the effects that the decision had on the clients. This will inform the psychologist on whether their decision had a positive or a negative effect on their clients. Therefore, they will be aware in case there is a rise of any perceived ethical issue. The decision made by the teacher had a negative impact on the student because it led to him being expelled from school. This should allow him to accept responsibility for the course of action he took. In the above case, the teacher should be ready to face the law because he should have acted with due care of his client. He should have followed the professional requirements.


Generally, psychologists are supposed to assume responsibility for the effects of actions they take before, during and after counseling a client. This could be in form of correcting the negative effects that may arise or engage in another decision-making process when an ethical issue is not sorted out. This will help to mitigate the consequences of the decisions taken because correction will mean leaving the previous alternative. In addition, assumption of responsibility will help to remove future bias and self-interest. In the above case, the teacher should take personal responsibility for their action because they made decisions that affected the teacher negatively.

Decision-making requires the application of the appropriate courses of action that are reasonable and deserved. This will help to prevent the occurrence of such a dilemma in future. The teacher should be aware that they should not disclose any information without the consent of their client who is the student. In addition, the teacher should always consider the motive of the students while seeking his advice. If it is for a good course, information should be held privately with disregard to the school administration. With the appropriate actions and strict adherence to them, there will be reduced occurrence of such ethical dilemmas. Moreover, the teacher should always make informed decisions that are guided by the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists.

In conclusion, the assignment was of great significance especially on the part about code of ethics. It is evident that failure to follow the professional Code of Ethics has consequences that may lead to serious effects on the client and the professional. It is also evident in the above case that the teacher would have simply followed the required professional ethics to avoid the ethical issue. However, he failed to follow them, which led to consequences that may affect his career as a counselor. It is therefore important to make informed decisions that are guided by the values, standards and ethics of the relevant profession.

In addition, it was of great importance that the assignment has informed us on the importance of systematic decision-making. Decision-making should not be an abrupt activity but it should have a number of alternatives from which the psychologist should choose. This helps in weighing the probable consequences on the clients and also the benefits and risks of choosing each of the alternatives. With such information about each of the alternatives, one is able to make an informed, warranted and feasible decision. It is also conclusive that professionals should not only work to make their ends meet but they should also prioritize the interests of their clients. This will help reduce chances of conflicts between the interests of the client and the self-interests of professionals. It will also be a step forward in achieving diligence among the professionals.

Finally, we have seen that decisions never end when they are made but they also influence the consequences that arise. Therefore, we should always analyze the results of our decisions. This will help to evaluate whether we made the correct decisions and hence it provides a room for correction or a total overhaul of the decision. This will lead to re-engaging in decision-making.























Canadian Psychological association, 1988, Canadian code of ethics for psychologists: companion manual, Canadian Psychological Association, Ottawa, ON.

Truscott, D & Crook, K H 2004, Ethics for the practice of psychology in Canada, University of Alberta, Edmonton.


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